Deciding whether to move to North or South Island in New Zealand from the UK, can be a big dilemma – they both have so much to offer. This PSS guide will help you make the right choice.
The laid back Kiwi lifestyle makes this country one of the top places to live in the world. In fact, New Zealand, along with Australia was recently voted the most desirable place for UK people to migrate to in the PSS National UK Emigration Survey.
Once you have decided to move to New Zealand the big dilemma you face is which island to choose. In fact, one of the most frequent questions we get at seminars from new UK migrants moving to New Zealand is “Should I move to North Island or South Island, New Zealand?”
The decision about where to go will be easier if you have family members or other connections in preferred parts of the country. Being near someone who already knows the place you are moving to can make this life changing event a bit simpler. However, a great thing about moving to New Zealand is that Kiwis will try to do everything they can to make you feel welcome, no matter which part of the country you choose.
These two islands are very different in many aspects, but both of them offer plenty of opportunities for working and leisure depending on your desired lifestyle. Another question to ask yourself is – are you a city or a country person?
If you are a city person, North Island and its lively atmosphere would suit you better, while for those in love with a country lifestyle, South Island has so much to offer.
Here is what you need to know about both islands to make the right decision.
North Island’s area is 113,729m2 comparing to South Island’s 151.215m2, but out of 4,700,000 people living in the country about 3,700,000 live on North Island so South Island would be a better destination to move to if you prefer less crowded places.
But, compared to the UK, they are both sparsely populated with plenty of outdoor space, so we will have to look at the islands in more detail to see which you are most suited too.
All of New Zealand is quite easily accessible by road and air – even small towns have domestic Air New Zealand flights on a regular basis. Other airlines, such as JetStar, mean there is always plenty of choice.
There are five international airports – two on the North Island (Auckland and Wellington) and three on the South Island (Christchurch, Dunedin and Queenstown) so travelling back to the UK or making the 3 hour trip to Australia is no problem either way.
In addition to air services, New Zealand is well serviced by buses such as ManaBus, which covers North Island, and InterCity and NakedBus which operate nationwide.
A part from the urban services in Wellington and Auckland, the railways in New Zealand are more geared towards freight and tourism, which is why they are branded ‘The Great Journeys of New Zealand’.
With New Zealand being about the same size as the UK, it is relatively easy to drive around both islands. UK driver’s licences and international driving permits (IDP) are valid for 12 months from when you arrive so this is a good option if you are used to driving around.
With New Zealand being left-hand drive, it could even be worth your while shipping your car out from the UK. Speak to PSS’ advisers and they’ll be happy to give you advice and a quote.
The Weather: Warmer North Island or sunnier South Island?
Due to the country’s diverse landscape, the climate in the North and South Islands is pretty different.
As most of the country lies close to the coast the temperatures are mild. North Island is warmer and wetter with subtropical weather on the far north, while as you travel south temperatures decrease.
Most of New Zealand has at least 2000 sunshine hours a year compared to just 1500 in the UK. Snow rarely falls in coastal areas, but some parts of alpine area on the South Island can be as cold as –10c in winter.
Temperatures are fairly similar to the UK, with North Island highs during summer being around 25 degrees with lows around 12, while on the South Island temperatures go to 22 high with lows of 10 or even less in some parts.
People who like higher temperatures and warmer weather, but don’t mind a bit of rain, would prefer living in the north. However, those enjoying more sunshine, but not minding chilly mornings, will find South Island a better place to live.
Big Cities and Small Towns
New Zealand has about 15 official cities (most are located on the North Island) and lots of small, interesting towns, townships, villages and settlements with plenty of character.
Compared to busy North Island, cities and lifestyle in the south are more laid back. People in many parts of the South Island feel a long way from the stresses of the city life and that’s probably one of the reasons they are really friendly and welcoming.
The biggest and busiest cities on the North Island are Auckland, Wellington, Hamilton, Tauranga and Napier/Hastings – perfect for those who enjoy being part of the bigger crowd.
Auckland, with its population of 1.5 million is the biggest city in the country. This is a place where most of the people settle when they first land in New Zealand. There are ample opportunities and it’s pretty easy to find your way around.
Known as “the coolest little capital in the world”, Wellington offers all the luxuries of a big city perfectly balanced with a relaxed way of life. Wellington region has a population of over 500,000 and offers a huge diversity of everyday activities.
Across the Cook Strait on the South Island, the largest city is Christchurch with a population of about 380,000. The city is still in the process of re-building after a devastating earthquake in 2011. Famous for its culture, Christchurch is a lovely place to consider living in and the weather is great.
Further south is Dunedin (120,000), second biggest city on the South Island. Lots of international students are coming to study there as it is considered one of the best places to live in New Zealand for employment and education. Other cities by population are Nelson (65,000) and Invercargill (54,000).
In summary, North Island wins for having the biggest cities, but South Island’s towns have plenty of character.
Cost of living
The cost of living in New Zealand is considered high and when you consider housing prices, life on the South Island might be cheaper.
However, according to payscale.com people earn more on the North Island so this tends to balance things out, especially if you live outside the city centres.
If you are renting, utilities are paid on top of your weekly rent. Those include electricity, gas (if you are using it for hot water or cooking) and water – charges depend on how much is used.
If you own a car you will need a warrant of fitness for it (the New Zealand equivalent of the MOT) which costs around $50-$80 and if you have an old car you will need to re-do this every 6 months.
Prices in supermarkets are similar everywhere in the country, but this depends on what you like to buy and you can always choose between cheaper and more expensive products.
Here are some prices of regular shopping basket items (source: numbeo.com):
Milk (1l) $2.55
Bread (loaf) $2.22
Potatoes (1kg) $2.79
Lettuce (1 head) $2.92
Apples (1kg) $3.51
Local cheese (1kg) $9.57
Bottle of wine (mid-range) $10/$15
Cinema (1 seat) $16
Fitness Club (monthly) $55.72
One thing to note is that petrol is cheaper on the North Island.
Renting or buying a house?
Living on the South Island is considered significantly cheaper than living up north.
Most new migrants choose to rent a home until they have decided exactly where they would like to settle. The majority of people coming to live in New Zealand end up living in Auckland. The cost of living and housing in the biggest New Zealand city is high, but the wages are also considered higher than in the rest of the country. With many job opportunities available it shouldn’t be a problem to find an affordable place to live in.
The rent in Auckland is most expensive with an average cost of around $350 a week for a one bedroom home not so close to the city centre.
For the last few years the North Island city of Whanganui has been considered the most affordable place to live in New Zealand.
Comparing the prices, rent on the South Island is cheaper. A two-bedroom home in the largest city on the island is around $380 a week and if you decide to go all the way to Invercargill a weekly rent for a two bedroom house is around $250 or cheaper.
If planning to buy a house, South Island has undoubtedly cheaper prices. In March 2018 the average value of the housing for the Auckland Region was over $1m while properties in Christchurch have an average value of about $500,000.
Looking for work
Both North and South Island offer plenty of job opportunities to newcomers depending on your skill set. Obviously, if you already have a job offer, this will decide where you move to, but New Zealand has a buoyant economy so there are opportunities everywhere.
The main industries in New Zealand are construction, agriculture and tourism, with many jobs openings in IT, medicine and engineering as well.
There is a higher chance of finding work on the North Island around the bigger cities such as Auckland, Wellington or Hamilton where you can often find a job pretty quick in lots of different sectors.
On the South Island, Christchurch with its peaceful and relaxing lifestyle, is very popular among migrants, with plenty of job opportunities in construction and trades as this city needs a lot people to help in rebuilding.
In other parts of the South Island most of the jobs available are in agriculture, manufacturing, recreation, hospitality and tourism. There are jobs on offer in other industries, but a bigger variety can be found on the North Island.
Shopping and Eating Out
With malls in the biggest cities around the country and outlet stores, craft and food markets available everywhere, shopping in New Zealand is easy. Naturally, bigger cities on both islands have more to offer than small towns but the shopping experience on both islands is pretty good.
There are stores in almost every bigger town in which you can buy everything at one place – from food to homeware, clothes, camping gear and sporting equipment.
There are four main supermarket chains (Countdown, New World, Pak’nSave and Four Square) which can be found on both islands, and there is no significant difference in food prices across the country.
New Zealanders are keen on quality food so you are not short on great cafes or restaurants on either North or South Island.
There’s no better country than New Zealand for those who like spending time outdoors in a safe environment. If you like walking, climbing, surfing, tramping or any kind of outdoors activities you are moving to the right place. New Zealanders are very outdoorsy and always look forward to spending long weekends in nature.
The best thing is that both North and South Island offer many different things to do, including city activities and wandering around nature reserves, national parks and walking trails.
Also known as City of Sails, Auckland is famous for its vibrant central business district, long sandy beaches and bush walks not far away from the city centre.
Some of the highlights in Auckland are Harbour Bridge, Sky Tower, Wynyard Quarter and Auckland Waterfront, Waitakere Ranges for walking enthusiasts on the west, beautiful beaches on the east side and Waiheke Island within a short ferry ride.
A huge number of New Zealand’s tourist destinations are located on the North Island. From the Far North Cape Reinga, popular summer destination Tauranga, well known Rotorua with its hot mud pools and thermal hot springs, to Lake Taupo for a quick winter getaway.
Surfers will enjoy riding waves in Raglan, adventurers will take on one of the great walks including Tongariro Alpine Crossing and nature lovers will discover all the beauty of the bush walks.
On the other hand, South Island is well known across the globe for its fascinating scenery, from the Wynyards in the Marlborough region on the north of the island, Abel Tasman National Park on the west coast, Fiordland National Park where famous Milford Sound is, to unique Stewart Island on the far south. As Stephen Fry recently enthused, “Fiordland, ladies and gentlemen. What a spectacle. Earth destination number one.”
Known as the “Adventure Capital of the World”, Queenstown is a magnet for everyone looking to experience some of the best adventure activities. This small town on the South Island is a popular place for people who like skiing, kayaking and climbing.
Find your favourite beach
Sea temperatures in New Zealand are not really high, but with about 15,000km of coastline it’s not hard to find a place near the sea on the North or South Island. If you like swimming and going to the beach, you will prefer living on warmer North Island where you can enjoy sunbathing on beautiful beaches.
Cathedral Cove and Hot Water Beach on the Coromandel Peninsula, Mt Maunganui Beach near Tauranga, Ninety Mile Beach in Kaitaia, Onetangi Beach on Waiheke Island and many beaches close to Auckland including Mission Bay and Takapuna are just some of the places on the North Island.
Even though sea temperatures are lower on the South Island, there are magnificent places to enjoy hot summer days. Beaches in Abel Tasman National Park, Tahunanui Beach in Nelson, Brighton Beach in Dunedin and Curio Bay in Southland region are the places to be.
It’s time for leisure!
People migrating to New Zealand have a chance to enjoy a number of sporting activities as well as plenty of entertainment events around the country.
As a family oriented place, New Zealand offers a lot of family friendly activities.
The variety of entertainment and leisure activities depends on whether you choose to live in a big city or in a small town in the country. An interesting fact is that even some of the smallest townships have leisure centres with a swimming pool.
On both islands, you will be able to choose whether you want to see a movie in a cinema, show at a theatre, or dine out in one of the restaurants or local pubs.
Most of the bigger events take place in big cities, so if you would like to see a famous star performing in New Zealand it would probably be in Auckland on the North Island or in Dunedin or Christchurch on the South.
New Zealanders like to contribute to the community in any way they can, so the best way for newcomers to meet the locals is to join one of the social and community groups which share their interests.
There is also a big camper van culture on New Zealand and this is a great way to go exploring the outdoors on the weekends.
So, Should You Move To North Or South Island?
New Zealand is a desirable place to live and there are so many great reasons to make a move including quality of life, scenery, weather, outdoors lifestyle and plenty of jobs for skilled migrants.
Those from the UK who like bigger cities, more people, warmer and more pleasant weather will prefer living on the North Island while those looking for a laid back lifestyle, all kind of outdoor activities and less crowded places to raise a family will enjoy their life on the South.
But no matter which island you choose to move to, New Zealand offers one of the best qualities of life in the world, so we’re sure you will be delighted, whatever your decision.
As New Zealand is not so big, weekend trips to either island are very easy so you can enjoy the best of both islands where ever you live.
Moving to North or South Island, New Zealand from the UK
Once you’ve made the hard decision of which island to move to, give us a call. At PSS we help thousands of families move to both islands every year.
We’ll be able to help make the rest of your move from the UK to New Zealand a lot easier. Your next dilemma will be deciding what you need to take – but our team can advise you on that too.